Terrorism

Kabul sceptical as Taliban deny responsibility in attacks

AFP and Staff

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Afghan security personnel inside a damaged building near the site of a Kabul truck bombing May 31 that killed at least 150 people. The Taliban-allied Haqqani Network has denied involvement, but Afghan officials and analysts call the denial bogus. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- The head of the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network has ruled out any involvement in a wave of deadly bombings in Kabul, reiterating the group's denial as it faces widespread condemnation.

The Afghan government has blamed the Haqqani Network for a catastrophic truck bombing in Kabul's diplomatic quarter May 31, which killed more than 150 people.

The Afghan Taliban disavowed any responsibility soon after the explosion, and its deputy head and the Haqqani Network's leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, repeated the denial in an audio message posted online Sunday (June 11).

"We have already condemned the [attacks]. The [Taliban] are not behind them," he said. "The enemy wants to defame mujahideen and create a distance between the nation and mujahideen."

The bombing triggered angry protests in Kabul June 2, with citizens chanting "Death to the Taliban" and demanding answers from the government.

A day later, at least seven people were killed when suicide bombers tore through a row of mourners attending the funeral of one of the protesters.

Denials dismissed

The statements disavowing Taliban involvement in the bombings fell on sceptical ears in Kabul.

"Despite the Taliban's categorical denial, the attack bears all the hallmarks of the movement," Borhan Osman of the Afghanistan Analysts Network wrote in a recent assessment of the May 31 bombing.

"The movement's operational capacity and logistical access to plan and execute such a bombing [are] beyond question."

Haqqani also denied being behind the June 6 bombing near the Grand Mosque in Herat city, which left seven people dead and 16 others wounded.

"Even if such incidents... have happened in the past, we have apologised and asked for forgiveness," Haqqani said.

Ministry of Interior deputy spokesman Najib Danish dismissed Haqqani's denials.

"They want to mislead the public while the entire world expressed their hatred of this group and its acts of terrorism following the attacks," he said, according to TOLO News.

Taliban 'playing a new game'

Danish reiterated the government's stance Tuesday (June 13).

"As we said before, we still believe that the Haqqani Network did the Kabul attack," he told Salaam Times.

There is no difference between Taliban and Haqqani Network militants, said Afghan security analyst Sayed Ahmad Ahmadi, pointing to the Taliban's recent appointment of Haqqani, son of longtime Haqqani Network leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, as their deputy leader.

"I believe the Haqqani Network or Taliban were responsible for the Kabul attack, but whenever they see the national and international reaction [of widespread condemnation], they do not accept responsibility," he told Salaam Times.

This is a new Taliban technique: to carry out an attack and then deny responsibility, said Mohibullah Nasimi, 37, a University of Kabul-trained political scientist.

"By playing this new game, the Taliban want to confuse the people," he told Salaam Times.

Security reforms

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who is under public pressure to carry out security reforms, has pledged a thorough investigation of the bombings.

At the Kabul Process conference June 6, Ghani issued an ultimatum to the Taliban, warning them to embrace peace or "face consequences".

On Sunday, the government sacked two top security officials, including Kabul's police chief, in an apparent move towards reforms.

Danish urged Afghans to support their security forces as the investigation of the attacks continue.

"We are trying to improve our intelligence networks and services, and we are also encouraging the public to support the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces to prevent this kind of attack," he told Salaam Times.

[Najibullah from Kabul contributed to this report.]

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